Bring Your Own Horse to Double E Ranch | New Mexico Cabin Rentals
 

 

 

Home

Accommodations

Our Horse Facilities

Rent the Ranch

What to Bring

Our Location

Gila National Forest

Weather

Other Activities

Cabin Rates

Articles About Us

Cowboy Log

Cowboy Wisdom

Cowboy Ethics

 

 

 

Email Us

 

 

 

67 Double E Ranch Road ~ Gila, NM ~ 575-535-2047

 

Bring Your Own Horse to Double E Ranch

Five Comfortably Furnished Cabins and Guesthouse at New Mexico Cabin Rentals

 

Ramblin's of a Cowboy Heart

This Cowgirl's Journey What an amazing journey this whole trip was for me. Despite the fact that I knew far in advance we'd be coming to see you, I was getting pretty nervous and fearful as the time drew closer - would I remember how to ride, would I make an ass of myself, would I fit in, would people like to be around me, would I hurt myself, was I up to the physical demands that I would be challenged with, would the wranglers sit around at night and say "holy cow, there's no hope for this one" and on and on ad infinitum. 


Imagine my surprise when in the arena first thing Thursday morning Kansas began to trot and I remembered how to post during the trot! Imagine my greater surprise when I remembered how to move my body with him when he began to canter and then to gallop - and I didn't fall off! Imagine how thrilled and flattered I was later that day (or the next day, I'm not sure) when Eddy tells me that I'm a joy to be around because I'm laughing and smiling all the time - although, the cynic in me thought for just a moment that he was saying that just 'cause he's supposed to compliment the guests, but I got past that pretty quick!  Of course, the company I was keeping had ALLOT to do with that laughing and smiling, too! 

My very biggest surprise came when we were team penning, and I forgot to be self-conscious..... as soon as I began to concentrate on "messing with cows" (thanks, Kate!) it all began to feel like I was born to this, or certainly that I had an aptitude for it - I actually remember thinking "wow, I'm pretty good at this!" So many changes happened for me while I was there, I can't hardly remember them all! I remember saying to Tracy at the first sit-down-at-the-table with all those folks "this is just like having a new great big family!" and it was - warmth, acceptance, great company - I felt as if you and the ranch itself were standing there waiting for me with open arms and open hearts - what a great feeling.


The day we went on the all-day, my back was pretty painful, but I really wanted to do the ride. I wanted not to whine or complain about how uncomfortable I really was - which is hard not to do! - I just wanted to enjoy the day, the company, the ride and the experience. I guess either Robin picked up on how uncomfortable I was, or my "pain face" gave me away to Tracy, and we stopped for an impromptu "wrangler yoga" session, which really saved the day for me. By the time we actually found cows, I was pretty ready to come home and get off the horse, but everyone else wanted to drive 'em in. I was not happy about that democratic decision, but in the spirit of cooperation, decided to make the best of it - and had such a good time, I forgot all about my back hurting me!! Later that evening, Robin gave me the thumbs-up and said "cowgirl up" to me. Now, despite the fact that I've seen those stickers on cars (and of course, trucks!) here in San Diego, I really didn't know what that meant. Imagine how pleased and happy with myself I was when he and Kate explained to me that it was a form of "good job", and Robin said something specifically about the fact that I didn't whine, and that made him that much more ready to help me out - how cool is that?!


I could go on and on about specific experiences for quite some time.... watching the sun come up w/ Mr. Gibson in my lap, purring and rubbing his head on my chin, coming around the corner on one of the more harrowing downhill portions of a trail ride and thinking "ok, this is where I fall and break my neck" and then thinking "have faith in your horse", letting go and letting Kansas bring me safely down, hanging out on the screened in porch after dinner with my buddies, looking over at the pregnant mare and the yearlings across the street and watching the horses play and bug-tussle with each other like school kids.... it's just almost too much. I found it very difficult to leave - it made me very sad, it felt like I was leaving family behind, it felt like I needed to stay for another 3 or 4 days 'cause my body was just really starting to get into it, it felt like I was leaving a place where I was meant to stay for a spell longer. It was especially difficult driving to work the next morning - were I not such a mature adult, I might have beat my fists against my steering wheel in sheer frustration, or perhaps shed a tear or two....


At any rate, the words "thank you" don't even come remotely close to expressing to you how much this trip to your 30 thousand acre home meant to me, how wonderful the acceptance from you, Eddy, Robin, Preston and Josh - and everyone in the house - felt and how dear the memories of this experience will be to me for the rest of my life. Tracy and I are already figuring out how we're going to engineer returning, and staying for a longer period of time the next time! I so appreciate your warm, welcoming hospitality - thanks you so much for being there and doing what you do. Please give my regards to the wrangler boys - particularly Eddy :o)   Kate tells me that you'd like a copy of the "Eddy's Girls" rap - I intend to put it into a frame with one of the photos of us girls with Eddy and send it along to you - I haven't quite finished writing it yet, but as soon as I do - and find the perfect picture and frame - you'll have it in your hands!

~~

Crossroads and Question Marks?   By Michael Quaintance

There are times when you ask questions, not because you need the answer, but because they answer is so blindingly clear that you'll do anything to tell yourself that it's not there.  You find a tract of land in your mind and you roll over it again and again until the ruts are so deep they become a ravine and somehow you manage to get lost in the overgrowth and the underbrush.

The who am I and where do I belong questions loop into one another until they become the meaning of one's life and the validation of one's existence.  And for some reason all of that round and round again works, or at least it keeps  you occupied enough to go from being too young to being too old without too many hiccups in life, or too many moments of vivid clarity that unsettle the comfort of blindness.

I was born in Chicago, in 1953, on concrete, beneath concrete and surrounded by concrete; went to college in 1970 and discovered that my heart and soul were made of and resounded to wood and wind.  When I was five I discovered that the color of my skin excluded me and defined me in the eyes of those who were and those who were not (it doesn't really matter what) and I spent the entirety of my days until this trying to or trying not to fit myself into one or more of those definitions; and choice, choice was just the space of illusion between one wall or the other.

Then in the midst of all that intellectual certainty and habitual self-victimization I found myself sitting on a tall horse looking out over a wide open country,  terrified to tears and moved to silence -- real silence, where even the little voices inside your head shut down for a breath they didn't know they needed to take.  Scared of the distance, overwhelmed by the absence of walls and all the pictures of myself that had filled the moments of my life.  Wanting to ride off into the unknown (which was no longer poetic)  and find the strands of myself that weren't dependent on those who were or were not, but were placed there by the Goddess or the God to be slipped deeply into the earth until I was rooted and at home with the land.

A man doesn't often have the opportunity to wonder, of finding a place that captures his first heart and makes him feel at home.  The question is, when he finds it what does he do? Does he back the past and homestead morning, or does he vacation his dreams and slip them like a dried rose between the pages of his life in the hopes of holding on to a little of the color?  There are times when you ask questions, not because you need the answer, but because the answer is so blindingly clear; after all - I've got a saddle.


A Tenderfoot’s Cowboy Song
By Michael Quaintance 
I have run all my life
From the ghost of my fathers
Trying to lay myself to rest
In the garden of promise
Long nights
And so many faces
Promises and lies
Lord I lost all those races.
She was lovelier by far
Than all the women that I knew
She held my hopes and my heart
Wasn’t nothing good she wouldn’t do
And I don’t know why
All I could do was break her
Leave the dust and her behind
For life’s sorrows to take her.
If you find me on the trail
And the dust and death have claimed me
Lay me shallow in my grave 
And let a little child name me.
And if there is a blessing
That the good Lord has for me
Let it be that she finds me
At the gates of Calvary.

~~

Mesteno  by Dale Marcy

The dry-bed glistens from the chance night rain.
I bring up the rear of the line of horses--
3 million years of history:
I ride a mesteno - mustang - the ownerless horse.

Tails swish, brush,
flick wet air into my face. Ears flatten.
Hooves dance on the dampened ground in wild staccato steps. Danger!

A flash flood thunders down the dry desert wash.
Skittish horses flinch, sidestep, rise up
to a rear-leg stance.
I rein for control, then release to give footing.

The muddy water rises, drenching thighs and flank;
my legs pushed free from the security of stirrups,
I hunker, and clasp his arching neck.

Our bodies lock together, will-driven to survive.
A shrill, loud whinny; powerful ribs expand, and then
a last, loping leap:
      Water
             Rocks
                   Embankment
                                Ridge.

We stand, both spent, in primal
communion and new-found respect.

~~

Makin' A Hand - by Jeff Burkhart

Double E RanchSo you want to be a Cowboy,
And a Hand's whatcha wanna make'
Well sit right down there little partner,
And let me tell you what it's gonna take.
First, don't ever shirk a duty,
And be cheerful in your every task;
And if there is something you don't know,
Don't be afraid to ask.
Never give a man your word,
With an idle breath;
And if  you were to ever cheat, 
Make sure you're cheatin' death.
What's that you say?
You thought we'd talk of hoolahans,
Or how to call the cattle;
Or about how I make my biscuits,
Or how to sit a saddle.
Well, son, these things you'll learn by doin',
And you will develop  your own way'
And with these things you will earn respect,
Ant that's worth more than pay.
So, take these things I gave you,
And I'll promise that  you'll learn;
Soon enough you'll be the teacher,
So be prepared to take your turn.
Now take the time to listen,
And someday soon you'll understand;
It takes a lot to be a Cowboy,
But it takes more to make a Hand.

Jeff Burkhart is a Cowboy Poet living Tucson, AZ (and a good friend).  Born and raised in Texas, Jeff moved to Arizona in October of 1999 to work.  He has dedicated his life to being a Cowboy and bringing the Cowboy way of life to the attention of "city slickers" through his poetry and his work  at guest ranches and other western events.  Jeff has a sure-'nuf entertainin' CD available.  For more information about Jeff or his poetry, you can contact Jeff at  JandDBhart@aol.com 

~~

You know what I'll miss?  Alan's clanky rushing boots.  You know - the sound his boots made, rushing through the house.  It was a clanky sound, different from every one else's.  You knew it was him, rushing around, getting everything ready.  And, Debbie's smile in the morning.  It was so pretty and clean, like you knew it wasn't fake or anything....struggling up the hill to the house...Boot Hill.  I call it Boot Hill cause you need good boots to make it up without falling!

 ...and the tack room in the morning.  All the brushes and things.  There were red brushes and green brushes.  Maybe they were the same?  ...and I loved it at night...you'd hear animals plopping around out there...in the dark...and you'd wonder which ones it was...and I loved getting the horses in the morning...and I liked that little tool, the one you cleaned their hoofs with.  That was a cool thing,.  His muscle, his strength.  You had to trust yourself, just don't put your face in front of his hoof!  Then, you'd get  him ready to saddle...You prepared the horse,  You'd adjust him yourself.  We never got to do that before.  It's like if something happened, you'd know how to handle your horse.  And, I liked tying the horse to a post -  when I finally figured out how to make that knot!

You know what I really liked?? Opening the gate on a horse!  That was great!  It's like, you can ride all around, but opening a gate is like fine tuning.  Satisfaction is finally getting the gate  open...

I liked the different places we rode.  The earth-towering walls, the canyons.  Wondering all the time what's around the corner.  Ruins, scat, animal tracks - it was all so adventurous.  My favorite was the cattle "tagging".  Alan was there.  He always made  you feel like you should get things done.  You know, calling out the cattle in small groups from the tags on their ears.  It was like "let's go get some cattle"!  It made it a fun journey.  I was much obliged for that...and, the  laughter we all shared - that was cool...our hearts were in it...good friends...And all the men were so cool.  They'd have their hands in their pockets all the time, when they were riding.  I was watching Dan...he'd ride around, and Robin, too, with their hands in their pockets.  So, I tried it...but, that's just not me...cold hand?? I'll use a glove...

I learned a lot of things with horsemanship.  I did get comfortable sitting in the saddle during the week.  In the past, I'd just be bouncing around in there.  And, I started using my feet to control the horse.  You know, it also impressed me just how well-footed a horse is.  We took 'em down a mountain with loose rocks.  This was not a hill!  And, breaking for lunch, always done at at a nice time...then, another adventure after lunch.  Coming home was always pleasant.  Unsaddle  your horse and brush him at the end of the day.  The temperature was perfect.  I couldn't believe how lucky we were that first day with all those different types of weather:  the  rain, the snow, the rainbow...  

And so, our plane is there waiting for us to board.  And, no, maybe this doesn't capture every moment that made us laugh, or wonder or blink in surprise.  Nor does it express our gratitude for folks who still believe in goodness and honesty or how impressed we were with the accuracy of the depiction of what we could expect visiting the Double E.  Keep that ol' trail-dust off yer chapstick, pardner!   

~~

Return of the Cowgirl By Lauren Wilcox

The Double E guest Ranch in southwestern New Mexico is 30,000 acres of scrub-covered hills and sandy creek-bottom land, broken here and there by steep ridges from which the landscape unrolls to the horizon in smoky vistas. But the scenery, at this particular moment, is lost on me, as I scramble to stay on the back of a horse named Buster, who has just shot several feet into the air.

Being on a bucking horse is profoundly disorienting. My field of vision collapses; the horizon swings back and forth, like a stormy sea seen through a porthole. The familiar polarity of head and tail vanishes. Suddenly, at a slapping trot, Buster recovers the earth, like a drummer emerging from a solo.

Preston Johnson, a 19-year-old ranch hand with a drooping mustache and sad, sky-blue eyes, materializes at my elbow. "Have you ever been on a bucking horse before?" he asks. He floats serenely in his saddle, regarding Buster and me with benevolent concern. "If that happens again," he says, "whatever you do, don't lean forward. Reach behind you and grab the back of the saddle." I look at my hands, in which I am clutching a snatch of Buster's auburn mane.

I have come to the Double E for a dose of the cowboy life. I first ventured out West a decade ago, from North Carolina. On a whim, I accepted a poorly paying job in Santa Fe, packed a suitcase and pointed my truck toward the Pacific. On the high desert plains of northern New Mexico, after four days of driving, I stopped on an incandescent stretch of grassland, and stepped out into a silence so broad and deep my ears rang. Beneath the atomic blue of the sky, my unfocused restlessness intensified, like a pinprick of light under a magnifying glass. This was cowboy country.

And so I discovered Johnny Cash, rode around in pickup trucks, wore big belt buckles and a red leather shirt. For a while, I lived in a teepee. At roadhouse bars on Saturday nights, I stomped around the dance floor with quiet men in tight jeans and pointy boots, unsure whether I wanted to be with a cowboy or simply be one, scraping out a living in exchange for the good loneliness and indisputable cachet of the cowboy life.

In the end, I went back East. I took a series of jobs in a series of cities. I learned about subway systems, "business casual" and cubicle etiquette. It wasn't boring, exactly. There was a soothing regimen to my days that crowded out peskier impulses. Still, I missed the West, so when I had a chance to spend a few days at a working cattle ranch, I leapt at it. This, I thought, dreaming over the dusty, sun-dappled trail-riders on the Double E's Web site, would deliver me to the true heart of the cowboy life.

I doubt that at this moment I much resemble a cowboy. I have arrived at the ranch during a rare rainy spell, and rather than risk getting us soaked on the trail, Preston has been shepherding me and several other guests around the ranch's big arena, which is sloppy with mud. Our horses are soggy and our boots spattered, and there is not a steer in sight.

Preston is a 2004 Silver City Team Roping Champion, as his belt buckle, a gleaming rococo platter, declares. He is trying to teach us the finer points of a sport called barrel-racing, a speed-and-agility rodeo event in which riders weave around a triangle of barrels in a loose cloverleaf, flogging their heaving steeds with the leathers, leaning into the turns like motocross riders, knees almost touching the ground.

But my nerves are rattled from the bucking, and Buster is twitching peevishly at the bit and dancing in place. Better that I walk him along the fence for a while, listening to Preston patiently explaining the routine. I shift in the saddle, trying to find a comfortable bone to perch on. Underneath me, Buster exhales wearily.

What kind of person takes a vacation on what is, essentially, a glorified farm? We are a motley bunch -- the horse-obsessed, the congenitally adventurous, the alpha athletes -- but we share a Mitty-esque infatuation with the cowboy life. Jerry Heck, who is here with his wife, Betty Anne, and has just returned from a stint as a civilian contractor in Iraq, trots endlessly in circles wearing a look of boyish delight. Through determined leg-flapping, he coaxes his horse into a higher gear and jiggles gamely through the barrel course in a pattern of his own devising. The man blistering by on a muscled palomino is Konrad Cartini, a German, who often stays on the ranch for months at a time. He is soft-spoken and bespectacled and rides like an outlaw: his shoulders hunched and his reins held high in front of him, like Jesse James overtaking a stagecoach.

After a while, Preston removes the barrels and sets up a line of orange poles, through which Buster and I execute a halting slalom, like a sot listing down a sidewalk. A woman from Illinois, through constant cajoling, urges her mount through a nimble run. "You almost knocked down that pole," her husband teases when she lopes up.

"Almost only counts in horseshoes," she retorts.

"And grenades," Betty Anne points out, from the fence. There is a general murmur of agreement from the group.

I haven't ridden since I was a teenager, so it is nice to be on a horse again, but there is a limit to the charms of riding around a ring. When it is time for dinner, our entire company, horses included, seems relieved to return to the barn. After putting away the horses, we drive, in most uncowboy-like fashion, the 100 yards or so up to the house where meals are served, on a rise overlooking the barns and the horse pens. I catch a ride with the couple from Illinois in their extra-cab diesel pickup, hoisting myself into the back seat and arranging my muddy boots carefully on a newspaper.

A WORKING CATTLE RANCH since the 1920s, the Double E was, until recently, Hooker Ranch, cobbled together from failed homesteads by a man named Joseph Hooker. In 1996, Joseph's son Donald sold it to Alan and Debbie Eggleston (the two E's), whose lifelong dream was to run a cattle ranch in their retirement. The ranch came with the old Hooker homestead and 100 Herefords, to which the Egglestons added 150 Texas longhorns. But the beef market, then in precipitous decline, barely earned them enough to pay the mortgage, and a lengthy drought made it tough to expand the herd. In between branding and calving, Debbie and Alan fixed up a few of the buildings as guesthouses and posted a Web site, and people began to come.

Debbie and Alan are not ranchers by trade -- Alan was a commercial airline pilot for years, and Debbie worked as an administrative assistant -- but they are the kind of durable, resourceful people to whom outdoor pursuits come easily, and with the Double E they have put together a fairly realized vision of the cowboy life. "Some people golf," Debbie told me. "Some people play tennis. We wanted to own a ranch. We weren't planning on running a guest ranch, but we just decided to do it like a place we would want to visit."

Meals are served, boardinghouse style, on two broad plank tables in one of the ranch's newer structures, a brick ranch house. Like all the ranch's buildings it is decorated in a charming Nouveau West style: fringed leather pillows, lamps wrapped in what look like pieces of lariats, and cowhides, the hair still on them, thrown over the sofas. A bookshelf along one wall has several linear feet devoted to a gilt-embossed set of Louis L'Amour books, a hardcover titled No Life for a Lady and a scale model of a Lockheed P-3 Orion airplane.

It is pleasantly noisy and chaotic at the table. Two British couples, who spent the day shopping in nearby Silver City, nod knowingly as we describe our attempts at barrel-racing. "Yesterday," one woman says, "Preston showed us how to rope cattle. We figured it out right away, didn't we, Helen? We picked three that were lying on the ground and began shuffling them down the fence. Everyone thought we were brilliant for doing three."

"Poor things were almost asleep," says Helen.

"I roped four," says Helen's husband, Colin, beaming. He and Helen raise cattle, as it turns out, and the other couple, Peter and Ann, raise sheep. They have always, they tell me, wanted to try their hand at being cowboys. (Helen and Colin also run a B&B. "This is a bit of a busman's holiday for us," she acknowledges.) I ask Colin if he uses ropes when he herds his cattle at home. "Oh, no," he says. "People would think I'd gone mad if I started roping my cattle. I use four-wheelers and a dog."

After dinner, I return to my cabin, which was one of the first structures built on the ranch, a low clapboard house with creaking floors and a wide porch. In its new life as a guesthouse it has horseshoes nailed to the walls, the collected essays of Frederic Remington on the shelf, and a bed with a fluffy meringue of a down comforter. It is barely 8 o'clock, but a wind is whipping up, and the bony places where I connected with the saddle are beginning to complain. As I slip into bed, I give thanks that I did not choose to go on one of the more authentic cattle drives, where guests sleep on the ground in bedrolls. All night, the wind blows showers of little nuts onto my tin roof. I dream of tiny cattle, stampeding in the distance.

SADDLING UP BEGINS at the barn at 7 a.m. At that hour, the sun has yet to clear the ridge, and the ranch's low white buildings are bathed in a bluish half-light, as though they were underwater. The day is clear and chilly. Dressed and ready, the dried mud knocked off of my boots, I see a light in the barn and head over a few minutes early, but it is just the glow from the Mountain Dew machine. There is no one around. After a minute or two, Preston's purple Ford F-250 motors over the ridge, its diesel engine thrumming. In the pens beside me, the dark shapes of horses prick their ears and snort softly.

After breakfast we scrape to our feet, stiff from yesterday's exertions, and make our way down to the barn. Our group is sharply turned out: felt Stetsons, crisp white hats, shirts with pearl snaps. A young actress from California has on a battered straw hat and a faded red bandana knotted charmingly around her neck, and a physician from Albuquerque and his wife are wearing matching fringed chaps. I have on an old pair of cowboy boots saved from my last tenure in the Southwest, but I have been too self-conscious to affect any other cowboy gear, and I am wearing a wool stocking cap and a sweater.

"Welcome to the Wild West," one of the ranch hands announces as we mount up and jockey for position in the road. "Everybody got their Chapstick?"

We take a trail that winds back through narrow canyons and shallow washes, a landscape shaped by water but dry as a bone.

The horses pick their way placidly through sand and rock, sometimes hitting a trot in the open stretches. Riding on the trail is a far cry from riding in the ring. The ranch's vast acreage swallows us. Cottonwood trees shiver over the creek beds, and the hills are a thatchy expanse of what Preston tells me is cat's-claw -- a bush with hooked, needle-sharp thorns. I have no idea where we are going or how far we have come. There is nothing, down in the wash, that an urban person can use to orient herself: no receding four-point perspective of streets and buildings, no clear dichotomy of "here" and "there." Progress is made imperceptibly, each scene replaced with one subtly different. This is oddly soothing. You are at the center of the visible world; wherever you are feels like your destination.

We see one cow today, in a stand of cottonwoods. It lumbers to its feet and watches us as we pass. Our guide leans over to get a look at it. "That's not one of ours," she calls.

"Where are ours?" I ask. She shrugs.

"There's 30,000 acres out here," she says. "They could be anywhere."

This is, I am beginning to think, a hell of a way to make a living.

The Egglestons run a cow-to-calf operation, which means that they make money by producing calves. The number that matters the most in this business is the number of cows that are retrieved in roundups with a calf tagging at their heels.

Well-fed, healthy cattle breed better, of course. On this kind of land -- rocky, largely barren, and dry -- each animal needs at least 100 grazing acres to get enough mesquite and grass to eat. This is a very high number -- Colin's cattle, in the rich grasslands of northern England, require only one acre apiece -- and during a drought, the number can be even higher. In a good year, the Double E's grasslands might support 350 cattle. This year, the Egglestons are running about 200 head. For a ranch the size of the Double E, with all its operating expenses, the income from a herd that size no longer covers the cost of raising it.

At dinner, Alan Eggleston tells me that cattle ranching, unlike many other animal-production businesses, has not been corporatized. This puts ranchers at a disadvantage when dealing with monopolized industries such as meat packing, he says; the selling price of beef has not kept pace with packing costs and the expense of raising cattle. These days, Alan says, almost the only successful ranches are run by families who own their land outright.

Alan sits back in his chair. He has the sort of mug that belongs on a cowboy: long and lined, with a wide Pace Picante-style mustache and slightly jug-handled ears. He is tall and narrow, and as ranch boss presides with a soft-spoken gravity. He rubs his cheeks with both hands. "Used to be," he says, "ranching was a way to make a living."

The glory days of cattle ranching were the decades following the Civil War, when some 40,000 young men were making their living on the Western range. After the invention of barbed wire in 1873, farmers gradually began fencing their wide-open spaces, and by the late 1800s, the days of the huge cattle drives were over. In the dusty Southwest, squatters and homesteaders competed with cowboys and Spanish families for control of the grasslands.

In 1877 Donald Hooker's grandfather began homesteading on a pretty parcel of farmland near what would become the town of Gila, N.M., in what was still just a territory of the U.S. government. In the ranch's heyday, in the mid-20th century, it was nearly 70,000 acres. Donald and his father ran 1,000 head of cattle and branded 900 new calves a year with the Hooker brand -- the gripsack, a square with a handle on top. But times changed. Donald's father died, and it became harder for Donald to run the ranch, much of which was accessible only on horseback. By the mid-'90s. the beef market was in the gutter, southwestern New Mexico was in the middle of an epic drought, and the market for picturesque ranch land was booming. The idea of selling was too hard to resist.

Donald lives with his wife, Betty, in a sunny double-wide trailer on the site of his grandfather's original homestead, on the 11,500 acres of farmland he kept for himself when he sold the ranch to the Egglestons. When I visit them one morning before a trail ride, there is a fire in the wood stove, and we stretch our legs in front of it. Three versions of James Fraser's iconic image "End of the Trail" -- an Indian slumped over his drooping pony -- hang on the wall over the sofa. Donald, who was a county commissioner and a state official for many years, is a cowboy-statesman in his mid-seventies, snub-nosed, tall and rangy, with a neat white pompadour. Dude ranching, he says, was something that never interested them. "I used to take people hunting with me in the hills. But I never took them for money, because then I'd have to wait on them."

Donald may be a rancher because he was born into ranching, but he is a cowboy because it suited him to work nearly his whole life in the saddle, shoot mountain lions when they were eating his herd and turn thousands of acres of unfarmable scrub land into a long, independent life. He is a cowboy because he is the same kind of man as his distant ancestor, the Rev. Thomas Hooker, who was run out of England like Roger Williams in the early 1600s and whose maverick individualism found, in the rough, unrealized potential of the new world, its natural home. Donald is a cowboy because, at 75, he still brands his cattle -- still has cattle to brand -- and at 10:30 in the morning on his day off, he is wearing spurs.

AT BREAKFAST the next morning, Alan announces over a plate of eggs that he has gotten a call from a neighbor, who has penned 12 cows and a bull of the Double E's, and that we will be driving the cattle back to the ranch today. It is unclear to me at first if we are going to drive them in vehicles or if we are going to drive them in the cowboy sense, but then Preston comes around with our horse assignments, and I am saved from having to ask.

As we assemble in the yard I realize that everyone besides me is wearing a cowboy hat, and the sun is already strong. My face and the backs of my hands are sunburned enough from the last two days. It is time for me to get a hat. I dash over to the Mercantile -- the Hookers' thick-walled old food cellar, now housing a collection of silk neckerchiefs, chaps, some of those fringed leather pillows, and hats -- and pick out a stiff, wide-brimmed number.

"You're going to want a stampede cord with that," one of the ranch hands says when I return, meaning the horsehair toggle that cinches the hat securely under one's chin. A stampede cord! This sounds promising.

My stampede cord cinched, the hat's wide brim gives my head an exaggerated equatorial wobble, as though I am at the center of a hat-sized gyroscope. I have been told that Buster is taking the day off, and I will be riding a horse named Gonzo, who I have been promised is comparable to Buster. British farmer Peter also has been transferred -- to a stout little horse called Lefty, so named for a tendency to list to the left, like a shopping cart with a stuck wheel. He is taking it hard. He slouches up next to me, looking sour. "New hat, eh?" he inquires. "Well, it suits you. Of course, it's hard to tell from down here."

"Peter's sulking because he couldn't have his horse," says his wife, Anne.

"This is a pony!" Peter cries. "My feet will get wet when we cross water."

We are headed to the HW Ranch, once owned by relatives of Donald's, and a half a day's journey up Bear Creek. Almost immediately the going turns laborious. In the absence of any clear path, we head straight through the stripling willows that clog the creek bed, tucking our heads and presenting the tops of our hats to the whipping branches. The patch of waist-high shrubbery I take a shortcut through turns out to be cat's-claw, and the hooked thorns embed themselves in my legs through my jeans.

After a few hours of fighting the underbrush, we reach a wire gate that marks the beginning of the HW. A dirt road appears in the sand. Our horses prick up their ears, and a moment later a chorus of agitated bellows floats down the hill. Preston grins, and spurs his horse up the road. By the time we reach the old ranch house, he has dismounted and is standing in a cattle pen making notes on a pad, a slight figure in a sea of heads and wide, shining horns. Standing motionless in the middle of the bunch is a massive bull. Preston squints at its ear tag and scribbles on his pad.

"We're going to sell you, you big son of a bitch," he says under his breath.

The wire pen holding the Double E's cattle has a gate opening directly into the wash, and we gather below it in jumpy anticipation. On the other side of the fence, Alan and his horse are working to crowd the cattle against the gate. The possibility of freedom broached, a state of unease has filtered through the groups on both sides of the fence.

Alan appears at the gate. We regard him anxiously. I, at least, have no idea what to expect. I tighten my stampede cord to the point of near-asphyxiation. Perhaps herding cattle will be self-explanatory. Perhaps he is about to give us some last-minute pointers.

"When I open this gate," Alan calls, "here they come."

The gate swings open. There is an electric pause, as the herd considers its situation, and then, of a piece, it lumbers toward us, swerves and heads down into the wash.

Herding cattle, I quickly find, is a little like herding marbles on a hardwood floor: Each animal barrels along a trajectory, ricocheting off obstacles and off of the others. The cattle crash through dense underbrush, and get themselves hung up on rocks and logs. They bellow inconsolably.

Preston bounds ahead, providing someone to follow, and Alan hangs back, guarding against stragglers. It is our job, Alan calls, to give the herd some motivation up the middle, which we do, hesitantly at first, and then boldly, lunging at the slightest show of malfeasance and giving voice to an impressive range of ululations.

"Bully-bully-bully," shouts Colin, smacking the white bull on the hindquarters with a sound like shoe leather.

"Gerrowt," snarls his sweet wife, Helen, fearsomely.

"Boo-yoo-yoo-yoo," warbles Peter, materializing from the woods.

"Gee-yah," I try, tentatively. The doctor from Albuquerque snickers.

The Brits, as it turns out, are fantastic herders. Colin, whooping and hollering, takes the natural lead, flushing the bull out of a couple of tight spots and maneuvering the whole herd through a bottleneck as we near the end of the trail. Ann and Helen are eagle-eyed wingmen, dashing after wanderers, and Peter and the low-riding Lefty pull a few surprise ambushes from the rear. I manage to goad Gonzo into a couple of timely blocks. Now and then, the herd coheres into a unified bunch. It even kicks up a little dust.

We head into the final stretch, sweating and stiff, funneling the herd through the creek and up the dirt road toward home.

At dinner, Alan estimates that we traveled a good 20 miles on our ride. I am sitting next to Jerry, the contractor from Iraq, who took a day trip with the beginning riders today. He shows me his handheld Global Positioning System, into which he has programmed the barn and the cabin. I have never seen one of these before, and he does a quick circuit through the functions.

"This was our max speed today, 12.3 miles an hour," he says. "That was a trot. This is the distance of the barn from the airport in Germany, our stop in and out of Iraq. This is the dining room's latitude and longitude."

We watch the screen, waiting for the satellite to deliver our elevation above sea level.

MY FLIGHT LEAVES from Silver City in the evening. After taking us on a last ride in the morning, Preston is heading into town to run errands, and Debbie has arranged for him to drop me at the airport. He and I drive around for a while, picking up a tire he was having repaired, lifting a hand at each passing driver. This is the New Mexico I was once intimately familiar with: the vast expanse of the flatlands, hemmed by blue mountains, framed by a wraparound windshield and split by a two-lane highway. "You and me and the lights down low," croons Gary Allan from the stereo. "With nothing on but the radio." Two long rifles and a few boxes of cartridges are lying on the bench seat behind us -- Preston has recently begun leading guided hunts at the Double E, for deer, bighorn sheep and mountain lions.

We stop at Wal-Mart, where Preston picks up a roll of pictures. He shows me one, a view of the wood-paneled interior of a mobile home. The Egglestons have offered to let him live on the ranch, and he is shopping around for trailers. Like Donald, Preston comes from several generations of ranchers and farmers; his father now works for a local copper mine. He recently graduated from high school with honors and a 4.3 GPA. "I had options, you know?" he shrugs. "But I do this because I want to."

Preston went dancing last night, at a bar called the Blue Front Cafe, an hour north of town. He is limping slightly, and as he eases back behind the wheel, he shows me a hole in the toe of his boot, where he stuck a pitchfork into his foot doing chores the day before. "I had to take 1,800 milligrams of ibuprofen just to be able to dance," he says. When he left, to catch a few hours of sleep before the morning feeding, the bar was still hopping. It was a quarter to 2 in the morning.

I wish that I had gone dancing at the Blue Front. I wish that tomorrow were not Monday, and that I did not have my entire year planned, a tidy grid of pay periods and federal holidays, on a laminated calendar push-pinned into the gray flannel of my cubicle wall.

The sun is setting, and from the parking lot of Wal-Mart the clouds stand out like red flares over the darkening hills.

"You know," Preston says, "most people have Sunday off."

He steers out of the lot. The road arrows toward the horizon, disappearing into the velvety twilight. He tugs on the brim of his hat, which hasn't budged since breakfast.

"But not cowboys," he says.

 

New Mexico Cabin Rentals

New Mexico Department of Tourism

 

Updated September 2018

Debbie & Alan Eggleston